TheÂ Bible says in Romans 3:10 that there is none righteous, no, not one.Â Why is that?
It is not because all of us have committed at least some small sin somewhere in our lives so that we’re therefore guilty of the whole law. Contary to popular Evangelical belief, a person who commits onlyÂ one small sin in their lives is a righteous man who will go to heaven based on his works (Rom. 2:5-7; Ezek. 18:27).
Read the verses that follow Romans 3:10. The people Paul are talking about have a throat like an open grave, the poison of snakes on their lips, deceit on their tongue, their feet are swift to shed blood, and destruction and misery are in their ways. Nice, huh? Those are the unrighteous that Paul is talking about.
So, is everyone like that?
We all know everyone is not like that. So why did Paul say they were? I have two things to look at:
1.) Paul is quoting the Scriptures when he writes this passage. All of it, from Romans 3:10 to Romans 3:18, is quoted from various parts of the Old Testament. He’s not just making a statement of his own, and that matters. He’s bringing up some passages to prove a point, not saying on his own that no one is righteous. One of the places he quotes is Psalm 14, where the Psalmist tells us, “They are all gone aside; they became filthy together. None does good, no, not one” (vs. 3). Yet that very same Psalm also tells us, “God is in the generation of the righteous.” I thought there were no righteous!
There are righteous. The Bible speaks in all sorts of general terms about things that are not universal. Not all the Pharisees robbed widows’ houses, but Jesus was not careful to specify that. Many Pharisees believed in him; he left them to figure out on their own that he wasn’t talking about them. (If you want a place to complain about me: yes, I’m saying that “no, not one” does not mean “not one.”)
2.) Even though we may behave correctly outwardly, that does not mean that we are righteous inwardly. Paul said that in regards to the Law he was blameless prior to his conversion (Php. 3:6). Yet in 1 Tim. 1:15 he says he is chief of sinners. In 1 Cor. 15:9 he says he’s not fit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church of God.
I do not believe that Christians are supposed to live in Romans 7 (where we do what we hate and don’t do what we want to do). Romans 8 is the answer to Romans 7. Romans 7 describes “the law of sin and death.” Romans 8 describes “the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” that delivers us from the law of sin and death.
However, I believe that lesson #1 for every Christian is “that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18). You will never go anywhere if you do not figure out that you are evil. Yes, you. Jesus addressed his disciples with, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask him?” (Luk. 11:13). His apostles didn’t flinch at this; I’m sure they were used to it. We need not to flinch at it, either. You had better understand it because you need the salvation of God. “God is with the generation of the righteous.” Didn’t I quote that earlier and say there’s righteous people? Yes, I did, but you’re not one of them, and neither am I. We really are sinners, just like Paul. Maybe he’s chief; but maybe you or I are.
Get used to that idea because the only righteousness God will accept is Christ’s. He has been made righteousness for us. And Jesus doesn’t produce a fake righteousness wherein he closes his eyes and pretends we’re good. No, as John puts it, “He who practices righteousness is righteous even as he is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7). Jesus has been made righteousness for us, and that righteousness is visible. Paul said he wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel of God because the righteousness of God is revealed in it (Rom. 1:17). Two chapters later he says the righteousness apart from the LawÂ was “manifested.” Jesus’ righteousness can be seen. Let us be a people, “zealous for good works,” who know how to receive empowering grace by faith (Tit. 2:11-14).
Paul’s arguments in Romans 3 are directed at Jews, but they are a perfect argument to us Christians. At the end of Romans 2, he told the Jews that if they don’t actually keep the righteousness of the Law, their circumcision won’t do them any good; it will become uncircumcision. Then he goes after them in Romans 3. “Look at all this stuff the Scriptures say,” he cries out to them. Then he lists verse after verse stating that people–all people or at least someone–are terribly unrighteous. Then he lets them have it. Here comes the haymaker in v. 19: “We know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law.” “Hey, my fellow Jew,” he is saying, “these verses are about you!!!”
Once he’s made it clear that they are the unrighteous, neglecting to keep the righteousness of the Law even though they’ve done the religious act of being circumcised, he tells them to receive the righteousness of God that comes by faith. Now don’t get confused here. I know Evangelicals often bring on pretend righteousness here. Pretend righteousness doesn’t work here. Those who don’t practice righteousness aren’t righteous, John says, as we saw above. Paul says the very point of Jesus dying was so that the righteous requirement of the Law could be fulfilled in those who walk by the Spirit. So the point is not that righteousness–real, lived-out righteousness–doesn’t matter. The point is that the only way to achieve it is by the Spirit of God. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, then you will live” (Rom. 8:13).
Â I’m going to add another blog immediately, because I really want to address the “one little sin” thing. It’s part of a doctrinal system that is, in my opinion, insulting to God.